On Judgement and The Mommy Wars

Apr 13 2012

I have a question.

I’ve had it for a long time, actually.

I tried to dismissed it.

But then I thought about it again.

And then I dismissed it again.

And then it hid behind a giant oak tree on the path behind my house and jumped me when I wasn’t looking.

So, fine, Question. You’ve got me in a headlock. Let’s DO THIS.

Are the Mommy Wars even real?

Yeah, yeah. I know that’s a silly question. (I’m telling you – I TRIED to dismiss it.) And I can turn to any news source and hundreds of thousands of blogs to get a resounding YES for an answer. The arguments are real, certainly. And the battle cries ring loud and clear. And I can hear the swords crashing somewhere in the distance.

But I wonder.

Are the Mommy Wars even real?

War, to me, implies a massive scope. An enormous scale. An all-encompassing effort and the necessary engagement of the populace, if not to fight the actual war, then to support it by rationing our supplies and standing in gas lines and paying with our taxes and buying into the propaganda.

And, man! The propaganda is real, too! I see it everywhere. “This just in!” the headlines read, “Mommy Wars Reignite! Mommy Wars Flare on a New Front!” Right? That shows up in my news feed every day.

And yet, I wonder – are we mommies buying it? Do we believe it? Really? And – if you do – if you’re engaged on the Mommy Wars front line – if you enlisted – will you raise your hand, please? Will you self-identify? Because I don’t know you; I’ve never met a mama who says, “That’s me! I am the Mommy Wars.”  And I’d like to invite you over for fresh-ground coffee with fancy creamer so you can tell me what makes you fight – not in a skirmish, not on the playground by the monkey bars, not even for an occasional and very important issue you find very close to your heart – but in The Giant War. In the Epic Battle. In the Big Fight of exhausted mommies against exhausted mommies.

‘Cause I have to admit, whenever I see the words “Mommy Wars,” that’s how I picture them, as a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners fight to the death.

And, well, that’s at odds with my experience. So I find myself in a strange place where I have to ask

Are the Mommy Wars even real?

There are things for which I stand, you guys. Tall (well, as tall as 5′ 2″ gets me!) and proud, there are people for whom I will stand. Convictions that I embrace. Beliefs I hold dear. And there are ways that I am judged. Ways that we have all felt the heavy hand of judgement descend upon us – for the ways that we feed our kids, and the ways we help them sleep, and the method we choose for schooling, and how we teach them right from wrong, and the ways we protect them from illness…

And and and and and and and. 

The boundaries of the ways in which we mamas are judged are limitless. Welcome to being a mommy! And, to tell you the truth, being judged for the mama decisions I make always, always hurts my feelings, because I ache to be told I’m doing well at this, my most precious and vulnerable task.

But I have to ask, is being judged as a mommy – even if I’m found wanting – the same as War? Is it?

Are the Mommy Wars even real?

It was Wayne Dyer who said,

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” 

Being judged is terribly painful. I like it zero percent. But another person’s judgement does not define who I am.  It defines who they are.

Do you know what another person’s judgement means?  It means that they’re judgmental. (How’s that for being judgy? Ha!) And that is all it means.  And that is all it will ever mean. And I’m smart enough to know it. And I am friends with lots and lots of mamas who are smart enough to know it, too.

So if being judged does not a war make… well, what does make a war?

What about differences of opinion? Or different choices? Do those make war?

I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all, in fact.

For example, my parents spanked me when I was a kid. They were very Spare The Rod And Spoil The Child. Oh my gosh, you guys: there was even one time when they mistakenly spanked me for something my dumb, little brother did. (I hope that sugar you snuck from the pantry tasted real good, Jeff.) I know; my parents are terrible people.

Except that my parents are not terrible people. My parents are wonderful and they never abused me, no matter how much they wanted to, and, judging by the way my dad’s eyes occasionally bugged out of his head and the giant, cordlike veins that stood up on his neck and the fire engine color of his face and the way he said through his clenched teeth, “I am not going to spank you right now because, if I did, I would beat you within an inch of your life, and I love you way too much to do that to you,” sometimes they wanted to very much. And even though Greg and I have elected to use other forms of behavior training, and we don’t spank our kids, I find it amusing that we’re raising kids the same way as our parents. By which I mean, we’re doing the best we can. And we’re screwing up. And we’re going to have to ask for forgiveness. And Please, dear God, let our kids grow up to be self-sufficient enough to pay for their own counseling.

My brother and sister-in-law sleep train their kids. I know; they’re terrible people.

Except that they’re not terrible people. My brother and sister-in-law are wonderful and their kids feel secure and comforted and loved. And even though Greg and I have elected to ruin our sleep forever and for always by letting kids in and out of our room and our bed at all hours of the night, I find it amusing that we’re raising kids the same way as my brother and sister-in-law. By which I mean, we’re doing the best we can. And we’re screwing up. And we’re going to have to ask for forgiveness. And Please, dear God, let our kids grow up to be self-sufficient enough to pay for their own counseling.

I could go down the line, you guys. All of the parents, all of the family, all of the friends who make different decisions for their kids than I make for mine. And yet, we find ourselves on the same side. The side where we’re doing the best we can. And we’re screwing up. And we’re going to have to ask for forgiveness. And Please, dear God, let our kids grow up to be self-sufficient enough to pay for their own counseling.

I know – I do know – that just because I’m not fighting about these things doesn’t mean that others aren’t. But I wonder if perhaps others’ fights aren’t really War? If, maybe, they’re skirmishes between mamas who are hurting and feeling the heavy hand of judgement and the rather desperate need to defend their choices because defending our mama choices feels a whole lot like protecting our kids, and, well, protecting our kids drives straight at the heart of being a mama. And if, maybe, we’re doing mommies everywhere a terrible and grave injustice by characterizing that as war.


Here’s what I suspect is closer to the truth:

I suspect that the Mommy War banners are carried by a very vocal minority.

I suspect that we mamas really are judged. For real. Really, really judged.

I suspect that we’re at our tiredest and most vulnerable when we do the hard work of loving those who are dependent on us, and that our exhaustion and exposure make us susceptible to feeling hurt.

I suspect that we lash out – even the very best of us – when we’re down and we’re sure we’ve just been kicked.

I suspect that we must – sometimes, we simply must – stand for our convictions and that that can look messy and bloody and ugly before we’re through it.

I suspect that those things we see labeled under the broad heading Mommy Wars aren’t in fact wars at all, but are, instead, hurt people who need compassion and grace and generosity and time to wrestle and space to freak the hell out and then, often, to be told that they’re good mamas even though their decisions look differently than mine and even when that’s a hard thing to say.

And I suspect that the Mama Majority is made up of women like this:

We are women whose hearts have screamed with total exhaustion in the middle of the night and the middle of the day and the middle of the bathroom which was just soaked with toddler urine.

We are women who’ve lost ourselves somewhere in the vast, all-encompassing Mama Ocean and felt the water closing in and wondered if we’re gasping our last breath.

We are women who’ve found serendipitous measures of gratitude and peace in the middle of the chaos and the mess and despite the filthy cushions on couches and the milk on our floors and the mountain ranges of laundry.

We are women who’ve given up in despair, only to find ourselves somehow stronger and smarter and wiser and more lovely than we ever knew we could be.

We are women who are all of the above, all in one woman, complex and confusing and amazing.

Here’s what I’m trying to say:

I think there are a whole lotta mamas out there in the world who know the Right Way to raise chidren. Or some of the Right Way. Or a piece of the Right Way. Or have glimpsed a sliver of the Right Way under an unmade bed along with a missing sock, a raisin, a matchbox car and six dust bunnies. And almost all of those mamas are willing to admit that they’re Making Stuff Up as they go along and that the Right Way pieces are really, truthfully, more like the Right Way for Me pieces.

I see more mamas every minute of every day who, rather than speaking loudly online or in the news about their differences, are quietly and kindly and lovinglingly coming alongside each other to support and befriend and beLove. I see you here on this blog every day, and I know in my bones that we are not the only ones who are giving mamas room to breathe and space to be different and to be ourselves and to screw stuff up. And I guess that my experience with you and with my friends and family just makes me wonder

Are the Mommy Wars even real?


Please do tell me, because I’m eager to hear… what do you think?